oxtail stew with warming spices: a wonderful winter warmer

sticky oxtail stew
Where's the spring we've been promised by weather forecasters? London's weather is distinctly grey. As a result, I want a meal that is comforting and soothing; something a little dark and sticky, a bit like my mood. 

I need a meal that is a lttle wintery but lively enough to delude me that spring is around the corner. I have convinced myself that what I need is an oxtail stew of such unctuousness, it is like one of the cartoonist Martin Rowson's fat cat plutocrats caught in a nonchalant shrug with its paws caught in this country's till.

The oxtail stew also has the added bonus of being relatively frugal, as I am still committed to last year's kitchen resolution to celebrate austerity with frugal but delicious meals. Oxtail can be succulent and very tender, despite the fact that the flesh is generally very sinewy. But long slow cooking is the alchemy that turns this overworked bit of flesh, bone and fat into something rather sublime.

As well as long, slow cooking, the secret, of course, is dark chocolate. Adding this to my stew was something of a revelation. I've cooked with chocolate in meaty stews before, but today it really was the most wonderful case of gilding the already bejewelled lily!

This stew tastes even better if left a day before eating. It definitely improves with age. This allows the flavours to develop and intensify, like most curries and stews. It will also reheat well. So let it cool then refrigerate overnight. There is very lightly to be a lot of fat congealing on the surface and you can scrape this off before reheating. (To be honest I think the fat is half the point!)

Serves 3 - 4
Skill level: Easy

1kg oxtail (about 1 tail's worth)
2 tbsp oil (I use rapeseed or olive oil)
3 x onions, sliced in half moons
1 x tsp ginger, grated
3 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 x bottle of red wine
2 x bay leaves
1 x cinnamon stick
1 x star anise
500 ml beef stock
2 tsp brown or palm sugar
1 tsp tamarind paste
25g dark chocolate
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh parsley, chopped (to serve)
buttery mashed potato

  1. Season the oxtail with salt.
  2. Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan. Brown the meat on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add some of the beef stock to the pan and stir up any of the sticky bits that have stuck to the pan. Reserve the liquid.
  4. Heat the olive oil and add the onions over a low to medium heat. (I tend to add a little salt too in order to release some of the water in the onions).
  5. When the onions are beginning to soften but not colour (which will take at least 5 minutes), add the ginger and chopped garlic. Stir and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the wine, stock, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and star anise, together with the sugar, tamarind paste and reserved liquid (from scraping up the tasty bits). Bring to a gentle boil.
  7. Add the browned oxtail and cover.
  8. Simmer for about 2.5 to 3 hours. (At this stage you could transfer to a covered casserole dish and cook in a preheated oven at 160C / Gas Mark 3.
  9. Turn the meat every 30 minutes or so.
  10. Check for doneness. The meat should be coming away from the bone. If not, then cook until it does.
  11. Discard the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and star anise.
  12. Adjust the seasoning.
  13. You can serve immediately but it is best to leave it overnight in the fridge (after letting it cool thoroughly).
  14. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and lashings of buttery mashed potato.

  • If you don't have any tamarind paste, use a little orange juice and a slither of orange zest for a pleasantly citrusy note.


miss south said...

Oooh, I just made oxtail stew last week with stout and am now kicking myself not to have thought of putting tamarind in.

Using chocolate in this recipe is about the only way I can get behind dark chocolate. Makes it so luxe and moreish!

o cozinheiro este algarve said...

Ohhhh YUMM!!!-my all time favourite.This recipe sounds intriguing with the spices and the chocolate.The oxtail stew I make is sweeter.I use a whole bunch of grapes
in the cooking which substitutes for the wine.Yours is aristocracy to my peasant!!!!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Ha ha, the reverse for me. I wanted to make it with stout but only had red wine in the house! Used the tamarind as needed something citrusy but didn't have any oranges . . . the joys of "making do"!

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

I dont think i've ever cooked oxtail but I know I like it and your stew looks superb... really earthy and love that sticky sweetness in my food... divine photo too!

Patricia (La Chatte Gitane) said...

I cannot remember ever eating oxtail,butI most likely I did, way back when.
I'll have to look out for oxtail when shopping and I'll deffo try your recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hello from San Antonio, Texas! I am excited about this recipe! I prepared everything and now have it simmering on the stove. I'm really looking forward to trying this Oxtail Stew. Thank you for the recipe. :) My husband wants a traditional Mexican Caldo de Res with oxtail, but I want something more lush, velvety, and exotic of course. lol I'm also making the traditional oxtail soup alongside your interesting recipe. Hopefully my husband will enjoy both!

Anonymous said...

BTW, what is 25 grams of chocolate is equivalent to? Thanks!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hi Nico. Lovely to meet you! I do hope you love this recipe as much as I do.

As for 25g of chocolate - I am trying to work it out. Over here, a large bar of chocolate (large as opposed to huge "family" sized) is about 100g - so I use about a quarter of a bar. But it may be worth just putting in a little at first and then seeing how you like the taste! Hope this helps. :)